The Best Productivity App

With today's digital tools, we are submerged with information. We have emails, chat, push notifications, feeds, live streams, reminders...

I find myself unable to keep up at times, and it can be very distracting. On top of that, I learned that no amount of reminders or notifications can prevent me from forgetting appointments or other important tasks. If there is too much information to process, I just stop trying and ignore it altogether. This is how I found the best productivity app out there...

High-tech no-no

I first tried digital tools like to-do lists or note taking apps. After all, if they are at the top of the "Productivity" category, they should help me get more productive right?

All this did was adding to the frustration. It added even more notifications on an already-busy, never-ending stream of superfluous information. These apps are typically installed on your smartphone, which is the #1 place for getting distracted. And typing on a smartphone sucks.

Last but not least, those apps lack flexibility, as by their very nature, they are limited. Limited to what the app's designer could think you might want to put in, and limited by the software programmers who did their best to transform this vision into an usable product. By essence, everything you want to put in must fit in a size-fits-all format. Backlog keeping apps like Jira and consorts have the same problem, but I'll keep this for another day.

Low tech hero

After going from digital disappointment to online waste of time, I tried pen and paper note-taking. It's easy to setup, entrance fees are minimal and it couldn't be worst than what I tried before. Except it could. Pen and paper note-taking requires an extra dose of planning and consideration, and if you start head-on like me and just start writing things down on whatever piece of paper you can land your hands on, you're in trouble. Sheets and post-it notes get lost, notebooks get messy and information can prove difficult to find back.

To effectively make use of pen and paper note-taking, you need a method. Thats when I discovered bullet journaling.

The system

Bullet journaling is a very simple system for taking notes and tracking events or tasks in a physical notebook. It is focussed on efficiency, simplicity and flexibility.

Efficiency so that you can use a small notebook and get the most of the available space. Simplicity so that you don’t have to learn a complex system. Flexibility because you can do whatever you want with your notebook!

To learn more about bullet journaling, check this page: https://bulletjournal.com/pages/learn.

The method can be used for keeping a journal, as a hobby, but to me it is mostly a work-related tool. It looks like this:

My bullet journal

How it works

Each morning, take a few minutes to prepare the daily log. First write down the day and date, then the tasks of the day. Then go back to the future log (its the place where future events are consigned, usually at the beginning of the notebook) to write down any appointment of the day.

Finally, check the previous days for undone tasks and migrate them to the current log. Migrating is the act of copying (by hand of course) undone tasks of the previous day to the current day. This can become very tedious if you have a lot of tasks getting migrated day to day, and it's on purpose. This process forces you to consider the usefulness of the tasks you are migrating. If they are not worth copying in for the 4th time, maybe they are not worth doing at all.

This whole process of preparation and migration takes around 2 minutes every morning. It helps remembering and prioritising tasks, remembering and preparing for appointments and meetings.

When taking notes during the day, use bullets to write down new tasks, events or notes that might come up, and don't forget to check what the other tasks are during the day. If you need to search for past information, you can very quickly scan the previous pages for undone tasks or events, thanks to the bullets.

Make it yours

The bullet journal site lists a whole lot of practices: future log, daily log, index, collections, etc. The core practices of bullets, daily log and migration are pretty much mandatory to make the system work, others are completely optional.

For example, I don't use a monthly log. I tried it and found it too much effort for the little I got from it. My future log is enough to track events and appointments. I also don't use signifiers as I found they overcrowd the pages with symbols.

It is very easy to get started with bullet journaling: all you need is a good notebook and a pen. If you are looking for a way to improve your organizational skill, just give it a go for a few weeks.

Analog more

Picking up bullet journaling was the first step of the "analog transformation" of my work. I find myself walking further and further away from digital tools, in favour of more old-fashioned physical solutions.

Next time I'll talk about the challenges and upsides of maintaining a physical backlog instead of using a digital tool.